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Life after the job: ?I know I?m one of the lucky few?

Like many officers after 30 years? service, Andy Labrum was struggling to figure out how to translate his skills and experience to a new role. In the first of a new regular column he explains how he got there and what inspired him to help other officers in a similar position
Published - 08/07/2021 By - Andy Labrum

I actually had a great career and some amazing roles and consider myself to be incredibly lucky. That said, I did have some really low points, saw and dealt with incidents that haunt me even now, and on a number of occasions, I questioned what I was doing, and why, and asked myself if it was going to be this way for the rest of my service.

There was one particular life changing incident that came out of nowhere and made me question everything.

I’d been on response, Crime Squad and then the Territorial Support Group, totally committed to the job. I was married with a young family, working really long hours, grabbing rest days and overtime just to make ends meet. Like all of us, I missed birthdays, Christmases, public holidays and regularly ended up sleeping on the gym floor at the base, because of overtime or having chosen to go out for a few beers with my work mates over going home. 

All of this culminated in the inevitable breakdown of my marriage and a divorce. It was amicable and we got on ok and despite everything, we were very sensitive about ensuring we were joined up with regards to my young daughter.

I’d transferred Forces to be closer to her and it was when I was a dog handler that my ex-wife told me that she and her new husband had been offered jobs and the opportunity of a new life in Sydney, Australia, and they wanted to take my 12-year-old daughter with them. I was working shifts, renting a home, flitting from relationship to relationship, and my job and my daughter were the only stable things in my life.

I knew I was a good Dad, and I fought the move, but after a really challenging conversation with my solicitor, I had to sign the papers to let her go and my heart broke.

As soon as I knew she was leaving, I started looking for ways I could join her in Australia, looking for roles or new skills I could learn (plumbing, teaching, anything), that might give me the ability to migrate.

No Aussie Forces were recruiting and there was nothing I could do quickly.

I plodded on for a few months in absolute tatters, with phone calls, plus the occasional internet call via MSN and webcam to keep me going. But I felt completely lost, and I stayed put and work and the gym became my crutch.

I like to think I did pretty well at work, winning several awards, gaining promotion, and driving my team’s performance in different departments and then, 9 years after my divorce, I married Claire (having said I’d never get married again), and we had two children. But at work, I was sick of being told where to be, when, what to do, still missing birthdays and Christmases and completely caught in the pension trap.

There was always something in me wanting to do something different, find a new career, a new life and see how far I could go. On top of that, I didn’t want to lose another family due to my work - I’d learned my lesson.

Well into my 40’s and whilst Sergeant on the Firearms Team and still working earlies, lates and nights, with a young family, my wife working part time, money was tight, and the shift work was literally killing me. My GP told me that I needed to change jobs or at least find a day shift role, and I ended up with 4 years to go, as Head of Public Order and Officer Safety Training. It was a day job at last and what a difference it made, and I worked with some brilliant people.

Two years later, my role became regional, and I didn’t want what felt like a hospital pass of a new role, so I applied to see my time out as a Custody Sergeant.

Then my hair literally started to fall out in lumps for the first time in my life and I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, which is basically random bald patches of different sizes on your head. I was devastated and my confidence took a battering.

Purely by chance, two great bosses decided they needed someone to undertake some pretty significant project work for the Specialist Operations Department. That morphed into a Project Manager role for the largest collaborative programme undertaken by the UK Police service at that time. I passed a Prince2 Practitioners course (somehow!), delivered my work packages and started to plan for my retirement.

On 30th April 2015, I handed in my warrant card and my 30-year policing career was over.

I visited my daughter in Australia, took the Summer off, and did what most newly retired Cops do. I took my wife and kids to Disney World Florida, had a load of work done on the house, paid off some debt and some of the mortgage, helped my family out and then started to panic.

After my retirement, I was ploughing through my savings at an alarming rate. What had taken 30 years to accumulate, was dwindling at an astonishing rate.

I knew I had to do something, but since the age of 18, I’d only known policing, and although excited about the possibilities, I was very worried about where the money was coming from, losing my identity, my livelihood, my vocation, and losing touch with colleagues and work friends.

A friend of mine was working for a national infrastructure organisation, and I spoke to her about Project Management. She mentioned that there were 2 project roles coming up within a change programme, and that I should consider applying.

I had absolutely no idea how to write my CV and I didn't know what to do with LinkedIn. I didn't know how to evidence my skills and experience within my CV and although I’d sat interviews within the police, I had absolutely no idea how to transfer that across to the business world, and I was more than a little scared. 

I checked out a couple of free templates and wrote my CV, which in hindsight and having written many more since for myself and many others, was pretty poor and very heavy on Police jargon, but that’s all I knew!

I applied for the lower of the two project roles as Project Lead, just to get a foot in the door and to learn my craft and was amazed to get through to interview. I prepped like mad on the organisation and the role and prepped and rehearsed my answers, matching my skills and experience to the role and used positive self-talk and visualisation which I’d used for years in the Police and sat the interview and I passed.

I heard nothing for a few weeks and was starting to panic when I received a call to say they wanted to see me again for an ‘informal chat’ with the Programme Manager. I attended that meeting suited and booted, and it soon became apparent that I was being re-interviewed but for the more senior role of Project Manager! 

At the end of the interview, and for the first time in my life, I was asked, ‘What salary are you looking for?’... I had no idea what to say and so I paused... blagged it and added a bit to my top rate Sergeant’s pay. 

They agreed without question (I should've gone higher!) and a few weeks later, with massive self-doubt, huge imposter syndrome and no handover from the previous Project Manager, I inherited a brilliant team of people and a 5-year project that had completely stagnated,  with just 7 months to go, working in an organisation I knew very little about. But by being humble and willing to learn, using a Cop’s pragmatic approach and our ability to quickly re-prioritise and make difficult and timely decisions, manage difficult stakeholders and communicate effectively, we delivered the project on time and to budget.

Just four months after leaving the job, having had no idea what I was going to do, I was earning more than my Police salary, plus my pension, incredible life assurance, a new pension scheme, on-premises gym membership, 3 canteens, a coffee bar, annual bonus, 30 days annual leave that I could take anytime I wanted and much more!

I have to pinch myself that since then, I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous successful interviews, worked with some incredible people, organisations and consultancies, delivered a number of national projects and organisational change programmes, worked freelance in IT Change Programmes. I’m now Platform Lead for Modern Workplace Technology for a global online fashion retailer. What I’ve found is that so many of us have a great work ethic, exceptional core values and behaviours, a proven track record of honesty and integrity, so much experience, and so many skills at our disposal that are relevant and sought after within many organisations, IF you know how to evidence them in a way that shows that you can solve their problem, add value, you’re humble and likeable and can fit well in the team.

I do consider myself to be incredibly privileged, in that I’ve since been able to help many others do the same as me. It really is straightforward and simple, if you follow a proven process.

Introduction to Blue Light Leavers

Andy Labrum served for 30 years in mainly frontline roles (including 24/7 response, Territorial Support Group, Dog Handler, Response and Neighbourhood policing Sergeant, Firearms Sergeant, Head of Operational Training and more).

After successfully transitioning to a new career, he was approached by friends and ex-colleagues in mid-service and close to retirement who needed guidance and support to understand how to map across their skills and experience to new roles. Blue Light Leavers was created to help more people and now has members from the UK, Ireland, North America, Australia and more and a Blue Light Leavers podcast audience across 47 countries.

Unlike other post-policing 'resettlement and career transition experts', Andy is still in full-time employment in the corporate world, interviews regularly for roles and interviews others and understands exactly what you are up against in today's job market.

Andy offers free clarity calls, 1-2-1 interview coaching, a bespoke 1-2-1 career change service and also runs online group coaching programmes which can all be accessed via the website: https://www.policeoracle.com/bluelight/

Visit PoliceOracle.com - the UK's leading independent Policing news website